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An Egyptian Court Just Sentenced Two Al Jazeera Journalists to Death on Espionage Charges

Six people, including the two Al Jazeera journalists, were sentenced for allegedly leaking classified information to Qatar.

by VICE News
May 7 2016, 3:30pm

Egyptian Al Jazeera journalist Baher Mohamed is silhouetted in the defendants cage of the court room of the Tora prison in Cairo, Egypt, August 2, 2015. (Oliver Weiken/EPA)

Six people, including two Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced to death on Saturday by an Egyptian court, on charges of leaking classified information to Qatar, according to the Doha-based news organization.

The sentence awaits approval from the country's grand mufti, Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam — Egypt's highest religious leader and official interpreter of Islamic law. A tenet of Egyptian law says that the mufti has to approve all death sentences before they proceed.

His decision can be overstepped, but is usually observed by the nation's courts. Allam is known as a moderate who has spoken out against the dangers of religious fanaticism.

The two Al Jazeera journalists — Ibrahim Mohamed Hilal, the director of news at the company's Arabic station, and Jordanian citizen Alaa Omar Mohamed Sablan, a producer — were tried in absentia. Asmaa Mohamed al-Khatib, a reporter with Rasd, an allegedly pro-Muslim Brotherhood outlet, was also sentenced to death.

"Al Jazeera media network rejects the absurd allegations that they (Mohammed and Hilal) were in collaboration with the elected government of Mohammed Morsi," a spokesman for Al-Jazeera told The Associated Press.

Related: Egypt's Journalists Have Launched a Fightback Against Government Repression

Meanwhile, the case for ousted former President Mohamad Morsi — who was handed a death sentence last year for his involvement in a mass prison break during the revolution of 2011 — was adjourned. Morsi, a leader from the Brotherhood, swept to power after the uprising terminated Hosni Mubarak's 20-year rule. He was also convicted on espionage charges and was accused of collaborating with militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.

This isn't the first time that Egyptian courts have cracked down on Al Jazeera journalists.

Australian Peter Greste and Canadian Mohamed Fahmy were released last year after an Egyptian court jailed them for "aiding a terrorist organization," in reference to their coverage of the Muslim Brotherhood during the revolution. The group was outlawed throughout Egypt after an army coup ousted Morsi.

The prison sentences for Greste and Fahmy — as well as at least nine other journalists — sparked international outrage from human rights organizations.

Prominent leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood have been given death sentences in the past.

Saturday's sentences will be approved by June, when the court reconvenes. The three other defendants given death sentences on Saturday are Ahmed Afify, a documentary producer, Ahmed Ismail, an academic, and EgyptAir cabin crew member Mohammed Keilany.

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